After the attacks on our nation on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush took to the airways to address the American people.
Speaking to a nation in shock, he cast what had occurred in the framework of good and evil.
“Today, our nation saw evil,” the president said.
And he offered up solace in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.”
Several days later, a number of evangelical pastors, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell Sr., picked up on the theme of good and evil, reward and punishment, and suggested we must look inside of our nation as well as outside. We must check ourselves.
Pat Robertson issued a press release, as was reported in The New York Times, saying, “In a country rampant with materialism, internet pornography and lack of prayer, ‘God Almighty is lifting his protection from us.'”
These pastors got major pushback in the country for suggesting that this horrible occasion provided good reason for self-examination, and Bush, himself a born-again Christian, disavowed the pastors.
The White House issued a statement saying: “The president believes that terrorists are responsible for these acts. … He does not share those views, and believes that those remarks are inappropriate.”
Of course, no pastor questioned who actually committed the acts of terror. They suggested that, along with the actions we take against the terrorists, we must also check our own moral state of affairs to try to understand why such a horrible act of violence could have been successfully carried out on our own soil.
We might recall that the pilots who flew those planes, transforming commercial airliners into lethal weapons, trained in our country.
And while these preparations in our own backyard for what occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, were taking place, the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, was preoccupied committing adultery in the Oval Office.
Now here we are, 20 years later, having spent more than $2 trillion in our operations in Afghanistan, with a loss of some 2,400 American lives. The Taliban, against whom we launched hostilities in 2001, is back in power. By some estimates, their control in Afghanistan is broader than it was in 2001.
Maybe today, as the United States withdraws from Afghanistan in despair, shame and confusion, and as we note 20 years since the loss of 2,977 American lives to terror in our homeland, there will be greater appreciation for doing some national soul-searching.
We needn’t just turn back to the admonitions of a few evangelical pastors 20 years ago. We can turn back 225 years to 1796, to the counsel provided to a young, new nation by its first president, George Washington in his farewell address.
Washington reminded his countrymen that theirs is a country rooted in eternal truths and warned about detaching from those truths and allowing the nation to deteriorate into raw politics.
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. … Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education … reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
“It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”
Over the last 20 years, as a nation, we have moved further from these truths. Under President Joe Biden’s leadership, we have politics, secularism and moral relativism on steroids.
Let’s understand that we will have no clarity abroad until we get our house in order at home.
Star Parker is President of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education and host of the weekly television show “CURE America with Star Parker.”